Uzbrojenie w obrazach Jana van Eycka. Analiza bronioznawcza. Realizm czy symbolizm?

Michał Michalak


Armament in the paintings of Jan van Eyck. Analysis of Medieval Weaponry. Realism or symbolism?


The article analyses the armament shown in four pieces of art created by Jan van Eyck: Ghent altarpiece (1432), The Virgin and child with Canon van der Paele (1434–1436), The Dresden Triptych (1437) and The Crucifixion and Last Judgement Triptych (1435–1440).

Among compared material there are also two miniatures from the Turin – Milan Hours cycle painted by Master G, who is identified with van Eyck. In order to compare examined armament, author of the article additionally analyses panel paintings of such artists as Konrad Witz, Paolo Ucello, Stefan Lochner, Herman Hitz. The sources of many military examples were the miniature cycles included in manuscripts: Trojan Wars (1441) and Le livres de marveilles (1420–1440).

Furthermore author presents images showed in Italian frescos as well as knightly tombstones found in Germany and England. Examined material includes also original a wide spectrum of offensive and protective type of armament.

Pole weapon was presented in form of few types of spears and halberds: spears with lanceloate arrowheads, leaf -shaped lance arrowhead and symbolic winged spear, otherwise known as Longinus spear. As for the blade weapons, they include swords, cutlasses and ballock daggers. Unfortunately, due to the presentation reasons, there is only fragmentary information regarding blade weapons.  They are either hidden in scabbards or only partially visible. Van Eyck’s Crucifixion scene introduces also ranged weapon as the reflex bow.

Whereas among the protective armament can be noted modern types of helmets such as great bascinets and kettle hats with pig -faced bascinets. On the other hand, discussed Crucifixion shows  some of the old fashioned pig -faced bascinets with visors attached by the forehead clinch. Also, barely seen in the painting, conical helmets are examples of earlier centuries. However, author of the article questions the realism of the hemispherical helmet with parotid shields and plate chin armour. The embellishment of the helmet, as well as its chin can be related to English great bascinets showed on numerous tombstones. Helmet of the Archangel Michael in the Ghent altarpiece and The Dresden Triptych, as well as the one worn by St. George, looks almost unrealistic. Further analysis of those pieces of armour reveals similarities to head protection shown in other works of art; it doesn’t fully prove their usage in the discussed era, but it certainly makes it probable.

Jan van Eyck introduced in his works various torso covers like: aketon, mail armour, scale armour, breast plate – kastenbrust, leg and hand plate armour. Beside atypical shield bucklers held by Archangel Michael, other shield examples may be considered as completely realistic images of armour. Author’s main conclusion is that great Flemish master van Eyck presented far reaching realism in his works along with wide knowledge of militaries both local and foreign ones. 

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Historica Gedanensia" jest wersją pierwotną.